Rutherford County's only gay bar turns one year old

by Kim Council

Situated on New Nashville Highway on the outskirts of Smyrna sits a little bar that has managed to become part of the small Middle Tennessee community. 

Appropriately named, Chameleon’s Lounge has spent the last year simply blending in to its surroundings.  The decision for Smyrna native Wanda Gannon and her life and business partner Carmen Rodriguez to keep a low profile has probably helped keep the bar alive for the last year. 

But as Chameleon’s Lounge celebrates its upcoming one-year anniversary on Oct. 31, the women realize laying low might be the reason behind the business’ slow growth.

“Carmen gave me this bar last year as a 50th birthday present” Gannon said.  “I told her I dreamed of owning a bar again, and she was just the one to help make it happen.”

Gannon and Rodriguez met through mutual friends just a little over two years ago.  Gannon said she fell instantly in love.

The two women come from very different worlds.  Carmen is a native New Yorker and Gannon has lived her entire life in Middle Tennessee, where the couple now resides.  During their long-distance courtship, Gannon made the trek to New York to visit Rodriguez.

Both women worried about Gannon's trip to the big city,  but from this trip a plan was hatched to create a life and a livelihood together.  And Gannon knew it would not be easy.

“Being born and raised in Middle Tennessee, I wasn’t convinced a lounge like ours could exist in Smyrna,” Gannon said.  “And ten years ago, I don’t think it could have.  Carmen believed in this dream before I did.  Now, almost one year later, I'm still amazed we did this.”

Carmen had a bit of a different vision.  Having spent her life in around Greenwich Village, she realized the importance of having strong and positive places where the GLBT community can relax and feel safe.  She felt a strong desire to make Chameleon’s Lounge just that type of neighborhood hang out. 

Located just north of Nissan Drive, Chameleon’s Lounge sits between three of Smyrna’s well-known bars. 

A décor of pinks and purples with soft lights and an oversized Budweiser mirror dress this little space up.  Upon entering the bar, guests are often greeted by Rachel, Rodriguez’s daughter, providing a true, at home feel.

A few tables sit around the small space and bar stools line the bar, but many patrons choose to sit outside on picnic tables to enjoy the Autumn weather and cook burgers on the grill.  For many, it feels more like their own backyard than a bar.

The women have big plans for Chameleon’s. Although the softball team they sponsor in the Metro Nashville Softball League is taking up their Sunday, Gannon wants to have tailgate parties in the bar so people can come in and watch football together. The women are also considering opening Chameleon's II in Murfreesboro.

Halloween, a favorite holiday for them both, is also Gannon’s birthday and the Chameleon’s Lounge one-year anniversary and appropriate festivities will be in order.

Rodriguez said a lack of support from the GLBT community could hinder some of their dreams.

“Sometimes Carmen and I sit here looking at each other, waiting for a customer to come through the door.  And that can get scary,” Gannon said.  “But then we’ll have a great night and meet new faces and welcome new friends.” 

Through word of mouth and a small sign out front, people find their way to Chameleon's Lounge to hang out and blend in. Gannon and Rodriguez hope they'll get the support they need to see their bar grow into its second year.

“Everyone we know goes to Nashville,” Rodriguez said.  “We don’t want to take business away from there.  We just want people to have a choice closer to home”

Chameleon’s Lounge is located at 6528 New Nashville Highway (70).
Open Tuesday through Saturday at 3 p.m., the lounge offers karaoke on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, free pool on Wednesday and discounts on domestic beer on Thursday.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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